Today in the Wisconsin State Journal was an article about the future of the Humanities Building on the UW Campus. This building has been on the chopping block for the school over the last couple of years and it has been at the center of a large debate, as the article accurately suggests. There is a lot going on with the building which is sad, and good that it is getting the attention it is after years of neglect in the city… I will give my personal take on it, as someone who has grown up in Madison, and as someone who has attended classes in it.
Ever since I remember driving through Madison, the Humanities Building has been one of my favorites on Campus. Although it is no longer my favorite, due to discovering some other buildings like the Red Gym, as well as the creation of many new buildings such as Granger Hall, Humanities still maintains a special place in my heart. You see, I have always had a special fondness for buildings that were not typical, and Humanities is not. It is angular and modern, some of my favorite features in man-made creations. To this day, i think the aesthetics of the outsides of the building is very cool, I even have a special place in my heart for other brutalist buildings on the UW Campus, in particular White which some English professors have declared to be the building without soul. I don’t see this, I see these buildings as some of the more original buildings on campus and for that reason alone almost completely worth keeping, not to mention the architects behind the projects as well.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I am in the “Save Humanities” camp. I’m not really. The building has issues, major issues. It was not built well, and I doubt it was the fault of the Architect, the UW needed it done cheaply, and cheaply it was done. Today it shows. Inside the building, there is very little pleasing about it. It feels like you are walking through a windowless dungeon with only one nice courtyard to give any sort of appeal to the entire complex. It almost feels like you are wandering to a jail complex really and it isn’t cool. The classes are small, and many are uncomfortably angular and warehousey which is not conducive to learning. There are many other issues, it wasn’t made to be an efficient building, it leaks, the foundation is cracking, it is a wreck. There is no denying it is a building that is dieing.
I do not blame the UW from wanting to get rid of it, yet it is still a work of art in its own right. I think if I leaned towards any camp on the debate I’d say that I hope they reconstruct the insides to make it a more working and functional building, re-establish the foundations to fix cracking, and finish off some of the other features that the architect had intended to put into the building which were cut for money issues (like carpeting in the hallways, and stone entryways) to make the building more appealing. The problem is that this would cost a lot of money, and in this age, Brutalist design is not well appreciated. That doesn’t mean that it never will be again, nor does it mean it should not be saved I think it is difficult, and it likely is cheaper to just start a new building. In the end, it really is the UW’s decision to do what they will. If they feel it is more cost effective to start over, then that is what they need ot do. However, I can’t help feel saddened that in 30 years whatever they choose to replace it with will be receiving the same problems that this one is currently having. Not to mention that I am sure that whatever building they do replace it, won’t be anywhere as original or cool as this building is.
I would likely be there for the demolishing of the building to give it one last fond farewell to a building that, while it had its problems, has certainly been a landmark along University Avenue for decades.